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California State Auditor Report Number : 2015-132

County Pay Practices
Although the Counties We Visited Have Rules in Place to Ensure Fairness, Data Show That a Gender Wage Gap Still Exists

May 31, 2016 2015-132

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

As requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit report concerning county pay practices at four California counties—Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Clara.

This report concludes that a gender wage gap continues to exist. After reviewing data on total compensation across nearly 4,000 different job classifications and covering more than 100,000 employees, our audit found that women earned between 73 percent and 88 percent of what men earned, on average, from fiscal year 2010–11 through fiscal year 2014–15. This aggregate measure of the gender wage gap—which does not account for the specific jobs held by men and women—has slightly widened at each of the four counties between fiscal years 2010–11 and 2014–15. Our audit also found that men and women do not occupy highly-compensated jobs with the same frequency. Although women make up between 54 percent and 60 percent of each county’s full-time workforce, men were more likely to occupy county job classifications with average total compensation greater than $160,000. Nevertheless, the level of pay disparity we found between men and women was often less than 5 percent when we reviewed compensation levels within specific job classifications, or groups of classifications having similar compensation amounts. A variety of factors can contribute to pay disparities between employees, such as full-time versus part-time employment; county pay practices that consider an employee’s prior pay when establishing current pay, which can further perpetuate pay disparities; and new employees who may only be offered the minimum starting salary regardless of their qualifications.

Our audit also attempted to evaluate whether counties were making employment decisions based on objective and job-related criteria. However, three of the four counties do not maintain records—nor are they required to under civil service rules—documenting why they chose a particular male or female candidate. County officials could only provide documentation explaining their rationales for 39 of the 154 competitive employment decisions we reviewed. While we saw that more women than men were successfully passing screening exams and being contacted for job interviews, the limited documentation at the counties hinders a more thorough evaluation of whether counties treat men and women equally during the hiring process and further leaves counties vulnerable should their hiring decisions be challenged. Further, the four counties we visited did not specifically track gender-based wage and promotion complaints. Counties could benefit from knowing how frequently these complaints are filed and whether there are patterns of complaints that pertain to specific county departments. Finally, to enhance public transparency on gender pay equity issues, the Legislature should require public employers to provide gender information when reporting data to the State Controller’s Office.

Respectfully submitted,

State Auditor

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